What makes an email newsletter worth reading?

Ah, the joy of an email newsletter, peacefully waiting for you to find time and space to pay attention to it. Here are some of my favourites…

In 2020, I collated a small list of email newsletters that I thought were worth reading, both professionally and personally. Four years later, I thought I’d revisit that exercise.

Then and now, the value of an email newsletter is that I have control over it, and choices about the news and views I read. On social media, I can choose friends or contacts, and block people I don’t want to interact with, but nevertheless I am pretty much at the mercy of the particular platform’s algorithm.

With an email, however, I can choose when to read it, and I can unsubscribe anytime I’m no longer interested. I have a filtered folder in my Gmail and go there with a sense of pleasure and curiosity more or less once a day.

What’s in that email folder?

Of the four I recommended in 2020, I am still receiving and reading three:

One man and his blog – a look by Adam Tinworth at how journalism and social media and audience engagement are playing out

Bloomberg City Lab – covers urban planning, climate change and related matters.

The Ruffian – Ian Leslie takes a sometimes contrarian but always considered look at “the most important, interesting and beautiful signals from the noise”.

And I’d still recommend them. Bloomberg City Lab trucks on much as it always has. The Ruffian has become partly paywalled and One man and his blog also has paid components. I’d pay for both of them (and for some of the newsletters mentioned below)  if it wasn’t for the way the punishing dollar-rand exchange rate stacks up. The fourth, Naked Data, has ceased to operate, as far as I can tell. The last one I received was in August 2021,

What I’ve added to the list since 2020

I’ve added some gems to my list of must-read newsletters in the last few years. I recommend:

The Red Hand Files – Musician Nick Cave answers questions from readers. It’s sometimes deeply emotional, sometimes funny and always beautifully written. It’s one of two newsletters I open the minute I spot it’s arrival

McKinley Valentine’s The Whippet  it’s billed as a newsletter for the terminally curious. It’s quirky and funny and fascinating. For instance, I have learned that from the earth’s perspective, Venus traces a pentagram or rose in the sky over an 8-year cycle. Worth the read just to have learned that!  

The Outlier is a South African offering, from the Media Hack Collective (which includes my former IOL colleague Alastair Otter). It does graphs and visualisations – lots of them, and about really important issues in this country.  Bonus tip – they also have a daily cryptic crossword clue.

Rosie Spinks’s What Do We Do Now That We’re Here? is “a newsletter about how to live a meaningful life in a chaotic, unstable world”, trying to “find the place between denial and nihilism, and set up a life there”. It’s thoughtful and inspiring and always leaves me feeling hopeful.

Laura Kennedy’s Peak Notions is philosophy at its best: thought-provoking, uncomfortable-making clear and luminous writing.

And then there’s author Cory Doctorow, whose Plura-list newsletter as it arrives in my inbox has no images, no fancy links and will never (I think) be on Substack. (His tagline says: “No trackers, no ads. Black type, white background. Privacy policy: we don’t collect or retain any data at all ever period.”) The website is a little more “designed” but the whole thing is so plain and so simple that I look at it with a sigh of simple pleasure. There’s a fair amount of promoting his own activities, and a lot of deep digging into issues that affect the United States. It’s worth supporting, though,  just because “No trackers. No ads.”


Try these email newsletters | Thought-provoking inbox companions

What I learned at a masterclass on email newsletters | Safe Hands

Filter, filter, filter – the key to email organisation | Safe Hands

How to write good emails (remember the reader) | Safe Hands

Main picture: The planet Venus, Kevin Gill, Flickr (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

How to reach me

Contact me if you would like to chat about how I can help with all your communication needs (writing, editing, coaching and training, social media). I also help small businesses and organisations with project and operational management. 

I write a post every week, some about my professional life and work, and some about broader issues. You can get either of those, or both, in your email, by subscribing here.  

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